What You Should Know About Reflexology

What You Should Know About Reflexology

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  1. History:

    The oldest documented evidence of reflexology is a pictograph dated 2500 to 2300 BCE, found in the tomb of a popular Egyptian physician known as Ankmahor. The pictograph illustrates a scene where two dark-skinned men are manipulating the feet of two lighter-skinned men. The hieroglyphs above read: ‘Do not let it be painful,’ to which one attendant replies, ‘I do as you please.’ Due to the physical positioning of the men, the color scheme, and the inscription, modern Egyptian scholars are able to interpret the pictogram as illustrating the act of using the foot to cure the patients of illness; essentially, "reflexology."

    While the practice of reflexology does not appear to have been in continual practice since ancient Egyptian times, documents show that Ankmahor enjoyed an unusually high societal status during his lifetime due to his ability to heal via the feet. And since that time, the curing of various ailments through stimulation of the feet has been practiced by many other cultures around the world including the Aborigine of Australia, modern Aztec of Mexico, Native Americans, and several cultures of the Middle East.

    But why the feet?

    As history reflects, the human foot has been a source of fascination, adoration, obsession, and intrigue since humankind’s earliest expressions of thought. In mythology, sacred writings, and at the core of many cultural beliefs, the foot stands alone in significance and social status.

    For example, the common unit of measure, the “foot,” is thought to have originated as a holy unit based on the length of a Greek goddess’s foot, and in ancient Gretian society, the revealing of a foot by a woman was tantamount to making an overt sexual advance. (This was during a period of history when Greek women typically went about their daily business with one or both breasts exposed.) And the significance of feet among Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures during Biblical times is, of course, quite evident. Both the Old and New Testaments contain numerous references to feet, feet washing, and feet adoration, with the custom of washing the feet of strangers and house guests surviving even into modern times.

    Likewise, in the Far East, in the earliest roots of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern religions, the customs of removing ones shoes before entering a holy place, and the kissing of feet of those considered holy or saintly, speak to how deeply rooted the socio-spiritual relationship with the human foot truly goes in Eastern culture. In fact, for over 1000 years, women’s feet were considered the most sexually-alluring part of a woman’s body in Chinese society, and children of Japanese royalty were typically carried until they were as old as eight or ten years of age, their feet too pure to touch the earth.

    How it works:

    In the late 1890s, the scientific basis for reflexology began, rooted in neurological experiments conducted by Sir Henry Head of London, England. In 1889 after conducting a series of clinical trials, Head documented zones on the bottom of the feet which became hypersensitive to pressure when an organ connected by nerves to this area was diseased. After several more years of research, Head established what is now known as “Head’s Zones,” or zones of hyperalgesia. With these designated zones as a foundation, the modern science of reflexology was born. And since that time, this science has been honed to a fine art.

    Correlated with principles discovered by the Chinese centuries ago, reflexology functions on the idea that lifeforce energy (known as ch’i or qi) circulates along twelve “meridians” or channels within the body. The six main meridians, which penetrate the major organs of the body, have end-points in the feet, located specifically in the toes. By massaging these points, energetic blockages are cleared, thus encouraging the body’s natural healing mechanisms.

    Considered both a science and an art, one of the most valuable effects of reflexology is in reducing stress. By some scientific perspectives, as much as 75% of all emotional, physical, as well as spiritual disorders can be traced to excessive stress. Excessive stress sets off a chain-reaction of muscle tension which first triggers immediate pain (often shoulder, back, and head pain), which then restricts the body’s ability to carry essential oxygen to various parts of the body where needed most. As a result, vital nutrients are not distributed and toxins are not carried out of the body. This condition sets the stage for any number of diseases including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes–which only worsen when left untreated.

    In modern terms, reflexology is what is called a “holistic” modality, encompassing body, mind, and spirit, aimed at treating the whole person. It does not isolate a disease and treat is symptomatically (like Western medicine) nor work specifically on one body system; it is intended to induce a state of total balance and intersystemic harmony. As a holistic therapy, reflexology aims to get to the root cause of the disease, treat it, and return the body to a state of homeostasis: a state of natural balance.

    Unlike common foot massage (or body massage in general), reflexology is geared to specific reflex points located on the feet, does not involve manipulation of the entire foot, and is not intended to bring about pleasure–though that is often the result.

    Applying specific thumb and finger techniques, the feet are viewed as a microcosm of the entire body, whereby particular points located on the feet directly correspond to particular organs or body systems. When pressure is properly applied to these specific points via reflexology, the body’s own healing mechanisms are stimulated along the channel between the point of stimulation and the associated organ. In essence, the reflexologist acts as a mediator to activate the patient’s own natural healing mechanisms.

    Personal Dynamics:

    Unlike medical doctors who are trained to remain detached from their patients, reflexologists must create a personal dynamic between themselves and those they treat. It is a process which both the practitioner and those they treat experience together. And contrasting Western medicine wherein a patient commonly turns over all responsibility to the doctor, expecting to simply be cured of illness, reflexology acknowledges that individuals create many of their ills by their lifestyle choices. Thus, reflexology involves not just immediate physical therapy, it leads to self-assessment as to how one can improve one’s overall behavior and make better informed life decisions concerning their health.

    Another aspect of reflexology which sets it apart from Western medicine is that not only does it help alleviate known disease, it is proactive and preventative. The process often leads to the discovery of as-yet unknown health issues. With foot reflex massage, health problems can be detected early and appropriate steps taken to prevent the onset of more serious symptoms.


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